Monday, July 1, 2013

Politics as Crime

What a perfect foil politics is for criminals who possess more power than anyone in this nation except the very rich, for whom they work. For no one dare call what they do crime lest they be charged with committing a crime against the State. And in childhood one learned once–do children still?–the story of Philip Nolan, “The Man without a Country.” We were taught Nathan Hale was a martyr, Benedict Arnold a traitor–neither of whom made the impression on me that Philip Nolan did. Eventually I loved and married a woman I had met in Mexico City sixteen years before she came back to estados unidos after twenty-six years in Latin America, having moved from Mexico to Cuba to Nicaragua after we met. When she was brought to trial by the Immigration and Naturalization Service for her so-called anti-American political views, I testified that I fully supported her effort to bring light to a region of the world–Castro and Guevara’s; the Sandinistas’–we would know less about if not for her willingness not only to report what she was learning–fully capable of experiencing life there through the ideological lens of her host countries–but, more crucially, to write in both prose and poetry, in both English and Spanish, about what and where she was living, and, for example, learning more than any  denizen of the International Hotels would be privy to.

We married in 1984, and when we divorced five years later, after a three-year separation, we agreed that we should have remained friends, which we have. For many years she has lived with her partner, and they will marry once the state in which they live has made same-sex marriage a reality. When she was brought to trial a year and a half after we separated, the INS judge ruled, after another year had passed, that she must return to Latin America. Then followed four more years of appeal, her defense team during the INS trial continuing by her side until at last she was allowed to remain in the United States, where she had been born. 

Like many others, I believe that the Patriot Act instituted by the Bush administration following the attack on Manhattan’s Twin Towers lies at the root of the crimes committed in the name of our country since September 11, 2001--from the Abu Ghraib interrogation scandal in Iraq to Bush Jr./Dick Cheney-approved use of torture techniques, like waterboarding, illegal under international law and never used in an American war until the twenty-first century.  To implement the Patriot Act, a new bureaucracy called Homeland Security was created to enable other bureaucracies such as the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to communicate more effectively. The CIA and FBI have always been secret organizations, with only their directors known to the public, but never aware of the names of those who work there, unless, to cite an example from the Bush Jr./Cheney eight-year putsch, the administration exposed the identity of a CIA agent, Valerie Plame, as a way of punishing her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, for revealing that Iraq was not buying enriched uranium from Niger because Weapons of Mass Destruction neither existed nor were being made in Iraq. As we well know now, Wilson’s news did not stop the controversially elected–Supreme Court appointed–Bush Jr./Cheney junta from declaring war on Iraq, in the midst of the war in Afghanistan that took on a moribund caste after Osama bin Laden escaped his Afghan stronghold, thanks again to Bush Jr. and Cheney’s failure to foil Al-Qaeda’s flight.

Before Barack Obama was elected president, he promised to rout bin Laden, and early on he did, giving the order to invade the house in Pakistan where Al-Qaeda’s leader was found and shot dead. Thus Obama risked his reputation early in his presidency as Jimmy Carter had done late in his administration, suffering from his failed attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages by losing to Ronald Reagan, who benevolently and relentlessly charmed the electorate as he plundered the country, perhaps most notably in the Iran-Contra scandal that evolved from his determination to return Nicaragua to its pre-revolutionary status quo.

Reagan also attempted to appoint to the Supreme Court one Robert Bork, who had followed Nixon’s orders during the Watergate affair, which led to the president’s resignation, the first such end to a presidency in American history. When Bork was refused by the Senate, Reagan had to settle for one Anthony Kennedy. Earlier, in appointing William Rehnquist Chief Justice a seat was left to be filled, as it is now, by Antonin Scalia. Little wonder that Reagan has become among Republicans the foil to Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well as the titular god of the right-wing conspiracy that calls itself the “Tea Party.”

Last week the 1965 Voting Rights Act was decimated on a Tuesday. On Wednesday same-sex marriage was strengthened by discarding California’s Proposition 8 as well as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Each case was decided by the now familiar tally of five justices voting for and four against. Though controversialists may elect to split hairs with regard to the Court, declaring that since the Senate “advises and consents” in the case of each judicial nominee, the people do, after all, elect the members of the Senate. Perhaps, however, hairs must be not only split but severed when, arguably, the crucial element may be said to reside in the ideological arsenal belonging to the particular presidents who appointed today’s justices: Ronald Reagan, not only Antonin Scalia but Anthony Kennedy; George Bush Sr., Clarence Thomas, and George Bush Jr., Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Bill Clinton appointed Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Barack Obama, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The conservatives (a misnomer that grates)–Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Olito–as well as Kennedy’s so-called swing vote, eliminated the strength of the Voting Rights Act until Congress can agree on a more up-to-date list of states possessing a record that presumably will reflect the shenanigans of the present day, as though all of those states named by the Lyndon Johnson administration have not continued their racist antics and, in fact, have been joined by miscreant politicos in Pennsylvania and Ohio–to name only two states that attempted to change voting rules before the 2012 election and were unsuccessful in the face of the long-standing constitutional power of the voting rights instituted forty-eight years ago. The very next day, Kennedy swung from negative to affirmative in delivering another 5-4 vote to rule against both DOMA and Proposition 8, that had outlawed same-sex marriages. Thanks to California’s state government, same-sex marriage ceremonies resumed there Friday. California became the thirteenth state where LGBT people (Lesbians, Gay, Bisexuals, and Transexuals) may now legally marry.

One day the Voting Rights Act is gutted and the next day, as though to ease the deep feelings of betrayal certainly coursing through those most directly affected–or afflicted–the power wielders broadcast the seeds of internecine warfare–blacks versus gays–by once again sanctioning same-sex marriage. With the abolition of DOMA, same-sex marriage could be declared lawful in all fifty states, but like racist whites homophobic straights want time to wear down and drain the will of those they oppose. Therefore the tedious and unnecessary state-by-state rulings must continue to seek an affirmative voices among the thirty-seven remaining states. And the states named in 1965 as having prevented African Americans from voting are likely to refuse to approve the right to marry among their LGBT populace. Passage of a Constitutional Amendment is unlikely to happen, with the Equal Rights Amendment to guarantee women complete equality with men providing a cautionary tale of waiting without result as long as men maintain their power. And how long will it take to find a fifth liberal woman for Court? When will another case come before the Court, and be accepted for adjudication, that might muster another 5-4 vote, this time one finally granting equality to all American citizens?

We continue, no one knows for how much longer, to live with the machinations of the unindicted criminals among the Right Wing. Bush Jr. and-Cheney walk free, unless like former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet they might find themselves arrested in a country overseas that abides by international law, and then indicted and ordered to appear before the International Court in the Hague, Netherlands, to hear the case against them and to explain their actions, this time under oath. Other criminals in our government now are more passive-aggressive: the House of Representatives, as presently constituted, block all efforts to change America for the better by America’s first president with black skin, a mulatto intellectual and published writer of a memoir and a book addressing the need for various political changes (before his decision to run for the presidency); educated at Columbia and Harvard universities, he was a community organizer in Chicago’s South Side before entering state and national politics. And being president has saddled him with all that the eight years of Bush Jr. and his cohort Cheney not only did but left for him to undo. Exemplary is Obama’s continuing effort to close the Guantanamo prison. It is simply one more instance in which Republicans prevent the president from making changes. Among prisoners who have been in Guantanamo, some since 2001, many have been legally declared innocent but remain imprisoned–a hopeless state of captivity that has resulted in a hunger strike that may end only when their corpses are removed from the compound, enabling the place to shut down at last. The foreign policy rammed through Congress shortly after September 11, 2001, continues mostly in place, although Obama, as he promised during his 2008 campaign,  ended America’s misbegotten war in Iraq. His corollary promise of returning American power in full force to Afghanistan has become the disaster it has always been to outsiders since Alexander of Macedonia.

The Republican Party, whose muckety-mucks jointly vowed on Inauguration Day 2009 to do what was necessary to make Obama a one-term president, could not counter the president’s daring refusal to allow the American automotive industry to go bankrupt. Nor could the G.O.P. or the Supreme Court do away with the Affordable Care Act, which narrowly became law while both houses of Congress had a Democratic majority, even though too many of those Democrats sided with the united Republican opposition, clearly indicating that there were not enough votes available to risk an entire program in pursuing a single-payer provision, which has been lawful for many years in Canada, with whom we share our northern border. And now the southern border we share with Mexico may soon become a virtual U.S. military zone–thereby indicating America’s fully voluntary armed servicemen and women may soon find themselves with more future employment in a country where joblessness has dogged Obama as Republicans, after winning the House, have  opposed all proposals he sets forth to attempt to alleviate civilian unemployment. In the Orwellian condition of permanent war that America seems to have entered, our troops no longer serve one tour of duty and return home; now they go back and back to active duty until they are either killed or wounded so gravely they cannot return to whatever front remains. Though many retire, others are prevented from doing so by the twenty-first century’s Stop-Loss provision invoked by commanding officers who declare that a soldier is indispensable to his or her fellow soldiers and is ordered to return to active duty, thereby delaying retirement until a future date. In addition, nonstop war since 2001 has created a burgeoning and critical need for much more room to house the wounded, and armed forces bureaucracies fall farther behind daily, it seems, in dealing with veterans’ applications for assistance.

We will continue to be an America whose values resemble more and more those of the nineteenth-century Wild West, though as yet no one must deposit his or her firearms in the safekeeping of the frontier marshal or sheriff’s office during their stay inside zones that demarcate a town or city’s borders. The effort to convert barbarism into a modicum of civilized behavior, for which World War II was fought, now boggles a mind that would believe a future even possible; in addition to the slaughter of children at Newtown, Connecticut, and a steadily mounting number of the young people murdered in Chicago,  not to mention the attacks on audiences in movie theatres, shoppers in city malls, and other forms of resentment expressed by the discontented and mentally ill, all wholly supported by the National Rifle Association, making it impossible to get enough votes from Congressmen and women who fear being what is called “primary’d” and thus losing their seat to another right-wing politician who will easily fall into line behind their ilk who are interested only in furthering their agenda by preventing Obama from having his way.

Combine all this with the scientifically undeniable phenomena involved in climate change and the refusal to allow Obama to work with the best scientific minds of the planet in not only stopping the destruction of the ozone layer but eventually attempting to repair it and offer the young a more viable future. To live until the age of three score and ten (seventy) or four score and then (eighty), or even longer, as Psalm 90 in the King James Bible says, depends today not only on a body’s strength but preventing natural disaster that puts in grave peril–to consider America only--the great populations of the Western, Eastern, and Southeastern coasts that may one day be submerged by the Pacific and Atlantic oceans as well as the interior of America that may become uninhabitable due to an already unpredictable number of tornados, hurricanes, floods, insufferable heat, unbearable winters, and only God knows what else. Meanwhile, women’s lives remain at risk more and more as Republicans institute laws forcing women to submit to transvaginal probes and all manner of insults meant to delay women from having an abortion until now, in some states, the foetus cannot be aborted until twenty weeks have passed, by which time an abortion may well endanger the woman’s life. Even though such legislation is unarguably an attack on women, is meant to punish women, such laws are proliferating at an alarming rate and constitute an assault on the constitutional right of a woman to choose between bearing a child or aborting a pregnancy, for whatever reason, which has been law since 1973. Now Republicans who dominate state houses pass bills, far too easily outlawing all but a few abortion clinics in a growing number of states; North Dakota, for example, has only one left. And in Texas, state senator Wendy Davis heroically filibustered eleven hours recently and her supporters packing the statehouse gallery took up the cause to defeat a bill intended to decimate that state’s abortion clinics. Thereupon, Texas governor Rick Perry announced that a new, month-long special session would be convened to pass the same bill . . . and this time we are informed that a filibuster meant to defeat it would require no less than two weeks!

States’ rights are still attempting to trump Federal law, and the savaging of the Voter Rights Act constitutes in effect a new criminal effort, or at the very least a return to hateful Jim Crow laws, considering the floodgates opening to states busy instituting voter ID laws, prohibitions of early voting, including “Souls to the Polls” rallies after church on Sundays, and who knows how many other gambits will follow? Remember the refusals of two governors–Orval Faubus (of Arkansas) and George Wallace (of Alabama)–to abide by a Supreme Court decision to integrate public schools, following Brown v. Board of Education, a decision spearheaded by Thurgood Marshall, the first of only two African Americans to sit on the Court (the other being, of course, the resolutely reactionary Clarence Thomas, whose political convictions lie a pole apart, if not a world away, from Marshall’s). Thus far, we may have seen only the tip of the iceberg–what Hemingway declared was all a good writers needed to show, allowing the reader’s imagination to see what remained under the surface. Lest we forget, though, this story more closely follows the criminal lives in Dashiell Hammett’s eponymous town of Poisonville in his novel Red Harvest; and, obviously, it is more crucial to pay heed to the irrefutable fact that actual icebergs are melting now, continually, relentlessly.

(28-29-30 June 2013)

 copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

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